Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle belong to Ren Pics/Universal/USA. The following story also contains spoilers from Between The Lines.

The Final Night

by Mayt

Xena laid on the ground. Her armor removed. Gabrielle placed a blanket over her. Hesitantly, her hand touched Xena's forehead. Gabrielle looked down in repose and then up to the one window in their prison. Standing up she looked to the horizon. It was all too familiar. Alti had shown her the gray, snow swept landscape complete with Roman soldiers and crosses bearing the defeated. She walked to the barred window aware that in the morning light she and Xena would be crucified. A destiny they had both witnessed in Alti's haunting vision. Turning she looked back to Xena. The distance between them was her making and she did not know how to hold the truth in her heart.

Gabrielle sat down in the lotus position and struggled to compose herself. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Again, a deep breath and a slow release. And again. Her mind returned to the confrontation. The Roman soldiers under orders from Caesar attacked. Xena would have defeated them were it not for Gabrielle. The path of love would cause them both their lives. Gabrielle was prepared to die for her belief in non-violence. But now too would Xena. The soldier had his knife to Gabrielle's throat. The demand voiced. If Xena did not accept shackles Gabrielle would die. Xena looked to Gabrielle in a frozen moment of surrender. Xena heard Gabrielle's plea not to give up. Xena's surrender was not to the soldiers; nor to Gabrielle but to a vision that had haunted her far too long. Hers was surrender to an inevitable death.

Gabrielle prayed silently trying to reach the strength she had garnered during the past years. A tear fell. She could feel it make its path down her cheek. She continued her prayers. She struggled to find her focus. To find the love that could not be bartered for life, her own or Xena's. She felt a touch upon her cheek and opened her eyes to Xena kneeling beside her.

"Why the tear?" Xena spoke gently.

Gabrielle struggled to maintain her calm. "It wasn't suppose to be this way?"

"We both saw the vision."

"You were not suppose to die because of me."

Xena placed her hands in Gabrielle's palms, which were open, raised during prayer. "No, Alti was right. I am the reason why we will be crucified."

"You didn't seek Caesar. We searched for you."

"Krishna told me when in combat to act without attachment. I failed. I have never been able to detach myself from you. I have never wanted to. Gabrielle, you were able to hold to your beliefs in the face of death. Don't ever doubt you did the right thing."

Gabrielle looked down as she closed her hands into Xena's. Without looking up she said, "We have this one night".

"Yes," Xena replied, "and it's a gift."

Gabrielle took in Xena's eyes. Never had they been as tender and giving. "There is so much I want to say to you."

"Then this is the time."

"I'm suppose to be a barb but I haven't been able to find the words for how I feel."

"I know."

Gabrielle raised herself up and embraced Xena. Xena held her, silently stroking her hair. Gabrielle's head rested on Xena's chest.

"I can here your heart beat." She raised her head and rested her hand in its place. "I have always looked to your strength. I haven't always been fair and let you lean on me."

Placing her own hand over Gabrielle's, "You know my stories. You have always been my greatest strength."

"Are you afraid."

Xena looked away. "I can't bear the thought of you..."

"It was my choice."

"Sometimes I still rue the day I let you travel with me."

"Do you? After all we have gone through, been to one another you would choose differently."

"I've hurt you."

"And I hurt you."

"Alti was jealous of you. I sometimes wondered if she chose the vision because she believed nothing would be more painful to me."

"She was wrong. For me to die alone would be my worst fate."

"Your family. Lila and your mother and father. You must be thinking of them."

"Are you thinking of your mother?"

"Yes. She lost Lyceus. And now me. No parent should lose their child."

The air was thick with their history. "You will see Solan." Xena paused before replying. They did not speak often of Solan or Hope.

"If I go to the Elysian Fields." Xena spoke a fearful thought. " We may not be together in death."

"No. You're wrong. I will be beside you where ever Hades takes you. I believe in our future."

This was too hard for Xena. She got up abruptly and walked to the barred window. Gabrielle, confused, still seated on the dirt floor followed Xena's movements with her eyes.

"Xena, Did I say something wrong?"

Xena took hold of the prison bars with each of her hands. Her strength wasn't great enough to move them. The emotion, a surging of anger, fear, and frustration could no longer be held in abatement. With the emotions came a cry, one that called home the deep recess of Xena's very soul and with it came tears, falling through the cut in her heart that could not be mended. Gabrielle rose and stood a few paces behind Xena's convulsing body. Her hand reached out but did not touch the warrior. Between Xena's irregular breaths, she heard Xena's lament, "May the Gods forgive me." To those words, Gabrielle stepped forward and embraced Xena, resting her cheek upon the small of Xena's back. Xena loosened her grip upon the metal bars. Her arms fell to her sides. Gabrielle strengthen her hold to which Xena leaned against the prison wall and slowly felt her body collapse to the ground taking Gabrielle down with her.

In all their years together Gabrielle had never witnessed this depth of pain within Xena. There was never a doubt that the warrior felt the burden of past wrongs that could never be made right. But death had visited them in the past without such torture. In this moment Gabrielle no longer thought of her own doubts and regrets. In this moment there was the reality that Xena felt a level of pain that was unfathomable to Gabrielle. It was unspoken and in many ways would remain a mystery. The tears and cry of the broken woman said all that needed to be said.

The morning light shone through. The time for the soldiers was near. Xena slept her head resting on Gabrielle's lap. Xena had barely moved throughout the night. Only enough to turn to Gabrielle's shoulder. Later Gabrielle would guide Xena, in sleep, to a complete rest. Gabrielle wondered if Xena would wake and sweep the night aside as a dream to be forgotten? Would Xena dress in an emotional armor for this last day? Gabrielle had returned to her prayers once Xena had fallen to sleep. In those few hours she knew peace. Her compassion had reason. Xena allowed Gabrielle to give of herself without challenge or embarrassment. As great as her love may be, there was always a line drawn. One of restraint and caution. Could there have ever been too much love between them?

The prison door opened. Two of Caesar's soldiers entered. Xena woke with the sound. She looked to Gabrielle. She felt this young woman's hands upon her and felt overwhelmed by their mean to protect and comfort.

"It time. Get yourself up. Caesar does not like to be kept waiting."

The two women rose to their feet, Gabrielle taking the first step towards the door. Xena reached out and took Gabrielle's hand pulling her back to her. So many times they stood like this, Xena taller looking down to the youth. But Gabrielle was no longer a youth. She had grown to a woman of beauty. Xena rarely acknowledged the extent to which Gabrielle's beauty touched her. Gabrielle searched Xena's eyes for a clue to what could still remained unresolved between them. Xena raised her hand to Gabrielle's cheek and said, "This isn't just for last night. It's for every day the fates have given me with you. It's for all the times the Gods gave me a chance to speak and that I remained silent." Then she leaned down and gently kissed Gabrielle. A kiss welcomed.

One of the soldiers swung his lance against the prison door making sufficient noise to make his impatience known. The two women turned. They stole one more moment, silent, impassioned. And then, arm in arm they followed the lead to the mountainside where their destiny would be realized.

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